Thursday, August 29, 2002

Cape schools juggle budget changes

Published in the Current

An unexpected increase in federal funding has the Cape Elizabeth School Board breathing a bit easier in the current climate of concern over state budget cuts, but the specter of additional state cuts still looms.

For now, $39,800 in state cuts will be offset by an estimated $40,000 in federal grants for students who have additional needs but don’t qualify for special education.

“We’ve heard rumors there may be more,” said Business Manager Pauline Aportria.

The board has an additional $232,000 in surplus, beyond their expected end-of-year surplus of $285,000, as a result of $60,000 in state agency payments for special needs students and savings due to an end-of-fiscal-year spending freeze.

The board, meeting as its finance subcommittee, decided to use $200,000 of that additional surplus to begin a capital improvement fund. They expect to use some of that money to either offset the cost of the high school and Pond Cove renovation projects, or to perform some needed roof repairs, if the
renovation project fails to win voter approval.

The money could be reallocated to other purposes if, for example, additional state funding cuts meant the schools needed the money sooner. The Town Council would need to approve such a reallocation, Aportria said.

After a discussion of whether to keep additional money in an undesignated reserve to bring the district’s reserve funding up to 2 percent – the “generally accepted accounting principle” – the board gave up under budget pressure from the council in the spring.

Board member George Entwistle said keeping the reserve at 2 percent would provide the district a strong negotiating tool when returning to the council during this year’s budget process.

But board members agreed that putting the money in a building fund would be the wisest move, particularly because they could move it if needed.

Superintendent Tom Forcella said the $200,000 for building expenses could make a big dent in the initial years of any bond that would be passed for the project.

“Ultimately, it’s going to reduce the tax rate,” said board member Kevin Sweeney.

School Board chair and building subcommittee chair Marie Prager said the high school building project, in particular, had been projected to cost more than they had imagined.

The $9.2 million proposal from HKTA Architects is far more than an initial survey, conducted by SMRT Architects, which projected high school renovation costs at $2.5 million, Prager said.

The big jump, she said, would pay for “redoing the high school the way everyone thinks it should be done,” including staff requests and $2 million in site work. Prager said she expects to get 20 to 25 years of use out of the upcoming renovation, but the cost is too high right now.

“We will bring it down,” she said. She warned, however, that the cost would not be cut to $2.5 million.

In its regular August business meeting, which followed the finance subcommittee meeting, the Cape Elizabeth School Board hear the following reports:
–Middle School Principal Nancy Hutton said there will be 34 new students at the middle school this year, including 11 new eighth-graders. She said there were 17 seventh-graders participating in the laptop iTeam program, in which they will help their peers and teachers better use the laptop computers. Hutton also spoke about the middle school outdoor education trips to Camp Kieve and Chewonki, and fund-raising activity to pay for the trips.
– Superintendent Tom Forcella told about new district employees hired over the summer.
– Pond Cove School Principal Tom Eismeier said he is accepting questions to be answered during his upcoming trip to learn about education in Japan.
– High School Principal Jeff Shedd said the state has mandated all high schools have in place at the end of this school year a local assessment program ready for implementation in the fall.